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Festivalgoers stranded in Wadi Rum as ‘Lanterns Festival’ turns dark

By Rayya Al Muheisen - Aug 20,2022 - Last updated at Aug 20,2022

In this image grab taken from a video, festivalgoers are seen waiting to attend ‘A Sky Full of Lanterns Festival’ in Wadi Rum, located 328km south of Amman, on Thursday (Photo courtesy of Nawal Harby)

AMMAN — After travelling for hours, hundreds of festivalgoers found themselves stranded in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert on Thursday with little to show for their efforts as the organisers of the festival were nowhere to be seen.

Eight big tourist buses packed with hundreds of tourists left Amman to attend “A Sky Full of Lanterns Festival”. The festival was scheduled for  August 18 in Wadi Rum, located 328km south of Amman.

“Ticket prices ranged from JD25-90. The ticket included transportation, dinner, drinks and accommodation for some,” Nawal Harby, a Kuwaiti tourist who attended the “event” told The Jordan Times on Saturday. 

Harby added that the organisers lied to tourists “straight to their faces”. “Buses were late; it took over seven hours to get to Wadi Rum,” said Harby. “It was all a scam. When we got there, we were not provided with anything,” Harby added. 

“I went with my three daughters; I did not feel safe at all,” said Harby. 

She stated that the DJ, who provided all of the lighting for the evening, left in the middle of the night when he was informed that he would not receive his full payment. He took all the lighting with him, “leaving all the tourists in the complete dark in the middle of nowhere”, she added. “The organisers were not present, and did not pick up any phone calls,” said Harby. 

Harby stated that after the DJ left, it was dark and after 1am. “We didn’t have anywhere to go or [anything to] do. It was dark, and definitely not safe,” she stated. 

She noted that many of the tourists booked accommodation at one of the camp sites through the same event planning company. 

“Tourist Police had to interfere and ‘force’ bus drivers to take the tourists back to Amman,” she added. 

“It was a terrible experience. I don’t wish what happened to me to happen to my worst enemies,” she added. 

She stated that when they wanted to report the incident, they were told to report it to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Amman. 

Tahani, a Jordanian, told The Jordan Times that the organisers were very professional until the day of the event. 

“We arrived at Wadi Rum at 8pm. The organisers told us that there would be 2,500 lanterns to fly. However, I only saw two let up,” Tahani added. 

Tahani added that she has proof of the payment. “I paid the full amount through one of the payment applications. 

“Around 9.30pm lights started to go off, people started to leave the event,” she added. 

“Volunteers told us it’s a scam, they told us to go home. Luckily, I booked my accommodation with another camp site. I called the guy and he came and picked me up,” said Tahani. 

Meanwhile, Ahmad Refai, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities spokesperson, told The Jordan Times that the ministry is not in charge of licensing events in Wadi Rum. 

“It is Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA)’s purview,” said Refai. 

Nidal Majali, Commissioner for Tourism and Environment at ASEZA, told The Jordan Times that tourists have to double check their reservations in advance prior to departing for a long destination. 

“Tourists have to directly contact transportation and accommodation companies in order to double check their reservations,” Majali added. 

He stated that ASEZA — which issued the licence to the event planning company— is only concerned with managing the environmental responsibilities of the event planning company. “Our concern is that the event will not cause any noise or pollution to the environment,” he added.

Majali highlighted that ASEZA is not considered an organiser for such events. 

“Tourists have reported the scam to official authorities. The case will be referred to the prosecutor,” Majali added. 

Despite multiple attempts by The Jordan Times to contact the organisers, they were unavailable for comment.

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